Wednesday, August 16, 2006

That's Seoul last week..

Annyeong Haseyo!


6:00am: Alarm goes off. James notes this morning's class is a "travel
class", meaning he has to go to the client's office instead of the
Berlitz Language Center. The good thing about this is that a travel
class never starts at 6:45am (morning shift is usually 6:45am to
11:15am). Meaning more sleep in time.

Another bonus of a travel class is that you get paid for the time to
get there (in 45 minute blocks, called travel units). You also get
paid for each 45 minute block spent in a class (teaching units).
Because my morning class is 1hr 30mins it means I get paid 2 teaching
units plus 1 travel unit to get there. Teaching units are worth more
than travel units.

7:25am: James gets up, gets dressed up in professional attire
(thankfully during summer we don't have to wear ties), downs a quick

7:30am: James takes oversized umbrella to protect from oversized rain
(I never knew it could rain so much in Summer!). Catch bus up the road
to downtown Seoul. Takes only 10-15 minutes (yay, the joys of living
so close to the center!)

7:45am: James gets his "usual" breakfast of a fried vegetable omelete
and ham toasted sandwich ($1) and free bottle of yakult from friendly
old lady from a street food stall. It's routine now, it involves me
getting off the bus, lady sees me, she nods, I nod, she quickly
prepares food, I take out money, she hands food over with another nod,
I hand money over with nod. I say Thankyou (in Korean), She mumbles
something back in Korean. I walk away.

8am: James walks a bit and arrives at the Tong Yang Finance building
for class. It is a private class (i.e not a group but an individual).
The student in question is a Senior Finance Manager called Hyung Tae
Park (he is number two guy in the company, below CEO). He is studying
at English Proficiency Level 4. (Level 1 is basic, Level 10 is native
speaker). This guy is cool.

James goes to his student's oversized office and the hot secretary
serves coffee (clearly being top management they get the pick of the
secretaries in the whole company). James and Hyung Tae spend the class
ignoring the lesson books (we are supposed to follow a Berlitz lesson
book and teach a certain way - more on that later) instead opting for
what is known as "free talk". Meaning talk about anything you feel
like. (Remember i'm teaching conversational English here). They talk
about all sorts of things, from Korean culture, to different ways to
get drunk, politics to religion, feminism and deep topics to the
latest (Korean) blockbuster movie, and of course their shared passion
is travel.

Usually James would correct mistakes he has made with tenses,
vocabulary and pronunciation, but overall he's at a higher level than
Berlitz have put him on (He should be 6, not 4 - clients are judged
and put on a level based on a quick interview with another teacher, so
many times they are not correct. The downside of this is that you
sometimes get a person on a high level 5 when in fact they really are
a low level 3.

Hey this level stuff sounds so "Dungeons and Dragons". They could
really make things snazzy and fun here by giving them titles and other
character attributes.

Eg; the character Hyung Tae Park is a Level 4 Senior Manager with
stats +7 fluency, +7 vocabulary +5 accuracy, and +4 grammar... Whoa my
nerdy side is coming out now...)

9:30am: James goes to the Berlitz Language Center for more classes.
James works two shifts, a morning 6:45am-11:15am shift, and an evening
4:15-9:00pm shift. This is just the time James is available to teach,
not that he has to teach nonstop in those hours. Any hours in the
middle of the day that Berlitz gives James work in is considered
overtime and gets paid more accordingly.

The reason for this split shift is because Berlitz teach adults,
usually big business clients, and they have to work in the middle of
the day. Therefore they are taught before they go to work, and after
they finish work.

10am: James says hi to fellow teachers, takes a quick nap in the staff
room, and most importantly take advantage of the free coffee,
broadband internet and airconditioning there! (ever wondered how I
could write such long emails?)

10:30: James teaches the Marketing Manager for Xerox called Hweung
Kuk. This guy is a level 5 (should be 4). He also chooses to ignore
the Berlitz teaching Method, instead bringing in his own boring
marketing financial reports and talking about them. It's very hard to
pay attention to something so boring. James generally sleeps with eyes
open as Hweung Kuk explains the FDR and the IDP and other acronyms and
percentages which baffle the mind on why anyone would choose a career
learning stuff like that. But hey that's just me.

However, today is different. Heung Kuk comes in class looking a little
worn out. Turns out he's a little worried about his position in the

In Korea, everyone works really hard, but because the country is so
small and there are so many people, it is very competitive and thus
hard to get promoted. Senior managers generally don't last long
because they get replaced by younger more hard working employees.
Thus, it's not unusual to see people in the 40s-50s worrying about
their financial stability and their jobs. (retirement age is 55, quite
young really).

Heung Kuk also explains his health is not good, with stomach problems
(possibly by drinking too much, binge drinking is a social norm in
Korea, especially with clients).

James spends the class providing counselling and solid advice to Heung
Kuk, who writes down my suggestions on his report on how to improve
his health and prove his value to the company. I tell you, this job
calls for more than teaching sometimes..

12:00: James has lunch at one of the many Korean restaurants around
the Center. Meals at Korean restaurants are cheap, filling, and comes
with free unlimited water and kim chi. You never leave unsatisfied.

12:30: James go home to potter around the house, catch up on some
sleep, or maybe hang out with friends.

However, today James plays with his TV that has no antenna, and
somehow manages to pick up the AFN channel, that's Air Force Network
for the American army stationed in Korea. It is full of propaganda and
junk programs and messages/advertisements that make American soldiers
seem like Idiots. Things like "Cut down on smoking by using nicotine
replacement products" or "More people have died in motorcycle
accidents than the war in Afganistan. So please, wear a helmet!" and
"Help the Post Office - place stamps on the top right corner of the
envelope." What the!?

James also takes some abandoned furniture (drawers) left on the street
by other Koreans. Koreans are good at throwing things out, and they do
it quite often. It's not rare to find decent TV sets, mattresses and
large furniture dumped in front of the house. They would then get
picked up by a special truck that comes on a certain day of the week,
and they get sent to government second hand stores to be sold cheaply.
However, other residents are also welcome to just take it. This is
part of the Korean way of life, sharing everything they have, even
food! Korean generosity is an admirable trait.

5:30pm. James goes back to work.

6:00pm James gives drug education to a Level 3 student, after
listening to his tale of woe in Amsterdam.

7:30pm: James teaches a Level 1 group. Groups are named after cities,
in this case the class in question is (as fate would have it)
Melbourne! James uses the "Berlitz Method" which is a teaching style
the company prefers teachers to use. The Berlitz Method is simply a
process known as the PPP cycle (Presentation - Practice -

Presentation: usually is asking a series of pointless questions about
a topic or objective or grammar point in the book. Eg "What do you see
in the picture? Why is the woman happy? What is she doing etc? Have
you ever done this? Where, when etc? Personally I think it makes the
student look stupid.

Practice: usually is reading out loud/ repeating the vocabulary,
dialogue or grammar point in the book.

Performance: usually consists of "role plays" where the students make
up a dialogue based on a situation that would use the
topic/objective/grammar/vocabulary point. The teacher needs to set
this up so the students know what to do, the students need to be
creative. I find this a hit or miss, sometimes it's alot of fun, other
times the situation I hastily set up just falls apart with dead
silence and confused looks (a teacher's worst nightmare).

Since the point in question was describing people, James whips out the
board game "Guess Who?", so much fun is had by all!

9:00pm: James goes home, attempts dinner, and watches cheesy Korean
soap operas, which all tend to be Comedy-Dramas.

I must admit I am addicted to them. Sure, they're all in Korean, but
you can just watch the actions and you know what's going on. One
favorite is a series where a 30+ married woman finds her pilot husband
having an affair with a 20+ stewardess. Woman and stewardess confront
each other, fight in the car and have an accident. As a result they
switch bodies. The chaos this causes in their lives is hilarious yet
dramatic. Sort of like a series version of "Freaky Friday".

Another favorite seems to be a take on "Anne of Green Gables", where a
city girl concerned with luxury and looking good ends up working on
her grandfathers farm in the countryside to earn her inheritance. You
can imagine the result.

And that's about the general gist of it. Weekends are usually a mix of
going out partying in the many vibrant districts of Seoul (Sinchon,
Itaewon, Gangnam), hanging out with friends, going on dates, and
catching up on sleep from the week or the night before...

More on Seoul life and love next email... stay tuned!

Tuesday, August 1, 2006

Expressing my Seoul

Annyeong Haseyo!

For some more incriminating photos from another mate of mine:

go to

and click on the "Korea 6/20" link.

And yes, thats me, having a "nap" on the floor of a Karaoke bar. With
casanets in hands. Clearly i've partied too hard that night...


According to some Korean friends of mine, I look like a famous Korean
action actor called something along the lines of "Shin Ha Koon" or
something. Cool! I'll have to find some more info and photos and
then let you decide if they are right or not.


The one thing I don't like about Seoul is the weather. It goes to
extremes here. In summer there is the rainy monsoon season, followed
by a really hot and humid dry spell, followed by more rain. In winter,
it's all cold and snowy and -10 degrees.

At the moment, it's monsoon season. I've never seen pouring rain so
hard and thick, even in traditionally rainy places like England! And
when it rains, it rains non stop for hours. This year especially Korea
has had the worst flood since 16 years ago! There have been
casualities, lots of damage and businesses out of work, as well as
several places under water.

Usually, at the start of the hot humid season, everyone has chicken
soup with gingseng, or even dog meat soup. These hot soups are
apparently good to have during such weather. Hot dog!

And no I haven't tried dog meat soup, thanks for asking.


During the summer, there is a famous Mud festival held on the beaches
south of Seoul. An interesting concept, it revolves around people
getting covered up in mud and doing muddy things, like mud wrestling,
dancing, sports and other mud activities. This is usually accompanied
by much drinking and music. Best of all, it's all free (and it should
be, I mean it's just dirt you know...)! The mud itself is supposed to
be good for the skin, and is probably one of the few places where it
doesn't matter if you spill beer on yourself

However, after much thought, I never went. Firstly because it was
raining, and secondly because I've seen and walked through enough mud
here that I have no real desire to soak myself in more mud! But maybe
next year...


Koreans love to mix their drinks. Their "rounds" consist of a huge
quantity of different drinks at different locations. Usually averaging
3 rounds, one ends up having gone to 3 different places in the same
night, each time someone else paying for it. Round one might be dinner
with some beer and soju. Round two and Round three (should one make it
to round three) might be at a bar with beer, soju and whisky,
sometimes all at the same time (mixing them together, they are known
as "explosive" drinks)!

This explains why many of my students come to class hungover.

There is also a type of drink that was popular two years ago. It
involved mixing soju (20% alc) with a slightly larger quantity of
Chinese Herbal Wine (10% alc) called Back-Say-Ju (100-year-old wine -
brandname). The end result is something called Oh-Sip-Say-Ju
(50-year-old wine). The taste is hard to describe, quite unique in a
strong herbal way.

The good thing about all this is that it's very easy to drink...

The bad thing about all this is that it's very easy to drink!!


It's amazing how many unwritten rules and laws there are for the
simple transaction of a business card. Here are the basic rules:

1.Cards are given with the right hand, received with the left, simultaneously.

2.Cards are read with both hands.

3.Cards must not be placed below the level of the table or waist.

4.Cards should be left on table till end of meeting.

5.Cards must be put in wallet. This wallet should go into shirt or
jacket pocket.

6.If several cards are received, the most senior* card goes to the top
of the line.

7. Age is almost as important as position.

(I'm really pushing the puns now )

Asking someone their age in this part of the world early in the first
meeting is quite common and not rude. This is because learning one's
age helps people classify you, work out the pecking order of your
relationship with them, and thus how to address/talk/deal with you.

This is why you often get people cutting you off in queues, ignoring
you in general, not acknowledging your presence etc, until you are
introduced and age is known. This is because you have not been
"classified"; you have no placement to the other so therefore they
don't know how to treat you. It can be annoying but you get used to

Conservative Confucion Style Korean tradition states you must always
respect your elders: - They get the first bite of food on the table,
eat first, drink first, etc. The youngest must serve the elders first,
ensure their cups are full etc.

To serve drinks, Korean tradition and etiquette states you must serve
everyone except yourself. To do so, you hold the bottle with two
hands. The person receiving the drink holds their glass with two hands
too. Of course, the more senior doesn't have to show this respect at
all to the younger. Also, the more close friendship you have with
someone the less you have to bother doing it.


Seoul is changing so quickly, even though I've only been here for a
month I can notice the differences. One of the major proponents of
change has been the rise of feminism. In the recent past, the norm was
that women would marry and play the subserviant housewife role,
serving the husband when he comes home from work, walking behind him
on the street, etc. The house was the womans' domain - she would clean
and look after the children. (And at some point in the past, they
trained any left handed children to use their right hand for doing
tasks, as left handed people were considered inferior). Nowadays,
women are increasingly scrapping the idea of marriage and traditional
roles for working hard long hours in the workplace, and refusing to
worship their husbands.

This has caused alot of confusion, as both men and women are still
learning their new places in society, and are uncertain of how the
future will unfold. Examples of confusion are the odd male who
accepts the wife as equal in earning money and respect, yet also
expects them to still cook and clean at home - also the women will
boast their indepedence, yet by force of habit, will still find
herself serving her husband and taking on the traditional role without
even realising it. Korea still has a long way to go in terms of womens
rights and equal opportunity, but it will be interesting to see what
will happen in the next 10 years.